Special Educational Needs

Literature Review

Definition of SEN

“One in every five pupils has a special educational need” (Ofsted, 2011, p.3). The Department for Education’s (DfE) Code of Practice (2014, p.274) defines Special Educational Needs (SEN) as being when a child or young person has “a learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made” for them. This can apply where a child has “significantly greater difficulty in learning” in comparison to their peers, or where a disability prevents or hinders them from making use of facilities typically provided within mainstream schools (ibid.). SEN are divided into the following four categories: cognitive and learning; emotional, behavioural and social; communication and interaction; and sensory and/or physical (Hartas, 2007). It is important to note that the boundaries of these categories are not fixed; furthermore, it is possible for an individual to have multiple SEN of different origins.

History of SEN

The Warnock Report aimed to include all children in education; each pupil would be set the same goal, but individuals would need different levels of help to achieve them (Warnock Report, 1978). This aim is significant as it emphasises inclusion as opposed to integration. In an educational context, inclusion is when schools and teachers adapt to the SEN of an individual by providing additional support or facilities. Integration is when a school ‘ghettoises’ SEN; whilst it may admit SEN pupils, it fails to adapt its structure or teaching to make both their facilities and the National Curriculum accessible, thus restricting and disadvantaging those individuals on the basis of them having SEN (Weare, 2000).

The report requested that individual’s needs be tested, from which a personal profile should be made (Hartas, 2007; Warnock Report, 1978). The Education Act (1881) reinforced the expectation of schools to provide for those with SEN; it went further to state that these needs (and thus provisions) are not static and must be continuously reviewed in order to successfully benefit the individual.

The Special Educational Needs (Information) Act (2008) required the Secretary of State for Education to publish information about SEN pupils in England, annually, in order to improve their well-being (Ofsted, 2011). The government’s latest initiative is the Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) which is provided for the majority of young people with SEN (post-assessment). The aim of the EHCP is to “secure the best possible outcomes” for these people “across education, health and social care” (DfE, 2014, p.142). Essentially the EHCP takes into consideration the views of the individual and their parents and communicates between services to work together to meet the young person’s needs and achieve the agreed outcomes (ibid.).

It is important to note that The DfE allows for mainstream education to be refused by a school on the grounds that a child’s behaviour persistently and significantly impedes the learning of others or repeatedly threatens others’ safety. Otherwise, schools are expected to take reasonable steps to avoid this instance (DfE, 2001). What constitutes a reasonable step largely relies upon practical circumstances including funding, existing school layout and availability of resources (DfE, 2001). Schools that occupy older buildings may – due to their structure – struggle to introduce the likes of a lift. However, there is no reason why these schools could not consider their timetabling and room allocations to accommodate for a wheelchair.

Schools aim to produce a supportive environment in which all can thrive (Weare, 2000). If a SEN – or indeed any – pupil repeatedly disturbs the learning of others or threatens their safety, schools are failing to achieve this fundamental aim. Whilst it is important to ensure that SEN individuals have the opportunity thrive, it is also important to maintain this environment for those without SEN; a teacher therefore, cannot spend an entire lesson assisting an individual for the duration.

Teacher’s responsibility

In accordance with the Code of Practice (2014), teachers are responsible (upon the school’s admission of a child with SEN) for making reasonable adjustments for that pupil during their lessons to ensure that students are not at a substantial disadvantage compared with their peers; It would not be feasible for the average teacher to close the gap completely, as they also have a duty to the other twenty-nine pupils in the class – in which there may be multiple different SEN that they must make adjustments for.

Providing a ‘Key Word Bank’ or sentence starters are typical everyday examples of how teachers may support pupils with SEN. Whilst initially time-consuming, these resources can be reused and adapted as necessary. The average mainstream school teacher would not, however, be expected to perform duties which fall more under the job description of ‘carer’ than ‘teacher’ (DfE, 2011).

Teachers should consider potential areas of difficulty for pupils with SEN prior to the lesson, and plan to remove barriers to learning. This anticipatory approach should enable all children, including those with SEN, to access the full National Curriculum as the DfE specifies (2013). A good teacher will be able to identify factors that promote and detract from an individual’s learning and accept responsibility for all students making progress in their lessons (Ofsted, 2008).

Progress is not limited to academic achievement, but also includes a pupil making progress with their “wider development or social needs in order to make a successful transition to adult life” (DfE, 2014); teachers can encourage this by simply fostering security and self-esteem (Winkley, 1996).

Social and Emotional Mental Health: Looked After Children

Many children with SEN suffer from familiar or wider social deficiencies, meaning they may not have been exposed to the same stimulation or stability as the majority, thus hindering their emotional and educational development (Warnock Report, 1978). The Warnock Report (1978) states that unless a neglected child’s educational provision is designed to compensate for the deprivation they have suffered, they won’t benefit from education in the ordinary sense. Winkley’s work (1996) builds on this theory, explaining that children need a firm emotional foundation on which to build; this is largely formed by the attention, responsiveness and care they receive from their parents during the first two years of their life.

Teachers can make a significant contribution to a child’s emotional development where they have previously been deprived of nurturing experiences (Winkley, 1996). A teacher can make this child feel valued by giving them jobs and responsibility within the classroom, such as handing out books at the start of the lesson (ibid.). Weare (2000) in contrast, takes a holistic approach, arguing that health and illness is a continuum rather than a divide therefore mental health promotion is beneficial to all; Whilst Weare is correct to highlight that everyone can experience SEMH difficulties at some point in their life, we must question her conclusion that there is no ‘type’ of person who gets into SEMH difficulty based on the recent analysis of the SEN Information Act which states that looked after children (LAC) were approximately 3.5 times more likely to have special educational needs (including SEMH) compared to all children (ibid.; Ofsted, 2011). This suggests that there are ‘types’ of people who are more likely to struggle with long-term SEMH difficulties, though this does not mean that they are not limited to these types.

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, social and affective health needs to be addressed before one can focus on intellect, suggesting that positive SEMH can support teachers’ efforts to teach the curriculum (Weare, 2000). Whilst teachers may argue that SEMH education only increases the pressure on an already demanding workload, effective social and affective education has been proven to directly benefit academic attainment, in accordance with Maslow’s hierarchy (ibid.). Essentially, if teachers dedicate time to addressing SEMH universally, in theory this will aid their subject teaching; this is particularly true of subjects which require the skills to prioritise and make judgements as these call on emotions for guidance (ibid.).


Department for Education and Skills (2001). Inclusive Schooling: Children with Special Educational Needs. Nottingham, DfES-0774-2001.

Department of Education (2014). The National Curriculum in England Key stages 3 and 4 Framework Document, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/840002/Secondary_national_curriculum_corrected_PDF.pdf (Accessed: 29.10.19)

Department of Education (2014). Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice: 0 to 25 years. London, DfE.

Education Act (1981), http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1981/60/enacted (Accessed: 29.10.19).

Hartas, D. (2007). ‘Special Educational Needs and Inclusive Schooling’ in Brooks, V., Abbott, I. and Huddleston, P. (Eds.) 2nd edn. Preparing to Teach in Secondary Schools: A Student Teacher’s Guide to Professional Issues In Secondary Education. Maidenhead, Open University Press, pp. 257-269.

Ofsted (2008). ‘How Well New Teachers are Prepared to Teach Pupils With Learning Difficulties and/or Disabilities’, https://dera.ioe.ac.uk/9257/1/How%20well%20new%20teachers%20are%20prepared%20to%20teach%20pupils%20with%20learning%20difficulties%20and%20or%20disabilities.pdf (Accessed: 29.10.19).

Ofsted (2011). ‘SEN Information Act: An Analysis’, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/180885/DFE-00074-2011.pdf (Accessed: 29.10.19).

Warnock, H.M. (1978). The Warnock Report 1978: Special Educational Needs. London, HM Stationery Office, http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/warnock/warnock1978.html (Accessed 29.10.19).

Weare, K. (2000). Promoting Mental, Emotional and Social Health: A Whole School Approach. London, Routledge.

Winkley, L. (1996). Emotional Problems in Children and Young People. New York, Cassell.

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